We all know this routine — a tragedy happens, and moments later our smartphones are blasted with info and requests to pray for those in need.
I experienced this in Protective Edge (Gaza 2014), I faced it 3 years ago on the Lebanese Border, but nothing prepared me for he challenge I faced this week.
It is time to take responsibility and make a change.
It was January, exactly three years ago. I was positioned in the War Room as a Hezbollah attack occurred on the Lebanese Border.
Before I had a clear picture of the operational situation, my phone was already buzzing non-stop with info streaming in the various WhatsApp groups, giving names and positions of the casualties.
This phenomenon might sound horrible to you, yet for me it wasn’t the first time. During Protective Edge I found out my friend was killed in battle in this way. But for the families of Maj. Yochai Kalengel and Staff-Sgt. Dor Haim Nini, who were killed in the Hezbollah attack, it was the first time.
A week ago, I faced a new challenge of this type, but for a change, it was not during a terror incident or war, but a car accident where a teenager from my community, for whom I serve as youth director, was injured. The boy was immediately taken to the ER, and his situation was unclear; the accident had yet to be made public.
A screenshot of a WhatsApp group chat was sent to our youth group, and the following message appeared:
“Our dear friend was injured in a car accident, he is in a coma and on life support. Please pray for his well-being” — including his name.
I can only imagine what was going on in the minds of his young friends who received this sudden message in the middle of the day, with nobody preparing them for this. And I can only begin to imagine what was going on in the minds of his family members. All of the details that were posted, by the way, were accurate. A monitored, official post would have clarified that due to a local (yet critical) injury which was causing much pain, the doctors decided to anesthetize him (which in Hebrew is synonymous with ‘in a coma’). Instead, the message gave the false impression that he was fighting for his life.
Thus, from that moment, I had to calm down his friends and the entire community, in an attempt to disseminate a more correct picture of the situation, while protecting both the privacy of the wounded teenager and his family, and preventing an overdose of the emergency and crisis feeling in the community.
Fortunately, the teenagers demonstrated maturity and agreed that from that moment and on, information should not be published without prior authorization from the family. In order not to encumber the family, the community designated specific individuals to be the bearers of information.
This is how it should be done — with sensitivity, reserve, privacy, and without bombarding people with information.
I recalled these incidents last week, as Rabbi Raziel Shevach was murdered by terrorists, and his brother found out about his death through these very same WhatsApp groups. Something has to change. And the change will not come from those spreading false information, or from those who crave attention and who will perpetuate the phenomenon. The change starts with us — committed and caring people, who really want to help out of deep concern.
All of us — media people, Facebook users, and yes — also the committed volunteers from the various Hatzalah organizations, whom I have sadly been exposed to what goes on in their respective WhatsApp groups — pause for a moment.
Take a deep breath, let go of the race to be the first to tell and conversely — be the first to save the day and to help.
Use judgement before you post, and before passing on the message received, ask: is the information accurate? Does everyone who needs to know of this already know? If it is not officially posted in the media – maybe that is a sign that someone important is still unclear?
In the words of the famous adage: Words can kill.
We have fulfilled that warning enough times, and it is now the time to put an end to it, sooner rather than later.